COP26

What the Philippine delegation did at COP26 climate summit

Pia Ranada
What the Philippine delegation did at COP26 climate summit

PHILIPPINES AT COP26. Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, head of the Philippine delegation, addresses other ministers at a high-level meeting at COP26 in Glasgow.

Pia Ranada/Rappler

The delegation pushes for more climate finance, joins a campaign to stop deforestation, but doesn't pledge to stop building new coal plants

It’s crunchtime here at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow as almost 200 government delegations try to pin down a final agreement even past the scheduled last day, Friday, November 12.

The Philippines is part of this international effort to grapple with global warming. What did Philippine officials do at this high-profile conference?

When the 19-person Philippine delegation led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III attended the first day of the summit last October 31, they said they would “endeavor to champion climate justice and climate finance.”

In layman terms, this means they want to make sure that the world sets aside enough money for poor, vulnerable countries like the Philippines to move away from dirty energy and help its people survive and thrive even amid freak storms, intense droughts, and sea level rise.

This is the biggest ask of developing countries in COP26. The Philippines is part of a group of 134 developing countries pushing for greater climate funding pledges and deeper emission cuts from rich nations.

Here are updates from Glasgow.

1. Dominguez pushed for climate finance and climate justice in speeches

Dominguez, the first finance secretary to ever lead a Philippine delegation to a UN climate summit, has pounded on the same line in every speech he has given here: developed countries should funnel climate finance to poor, vulnerable nations.

“Those who have polluted and continue to pollute the Earth’s environment through unthinking industrialization starting 200 years ago must pay for the grants, investments, and subisidies needed for the most vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change,” he said in his most recent speech, on Tuesday, November 10, at the High-Level Segment.

He said the Philippines expects COP26 to become a “catalyst for concrete action plans,” not just a platform for discussion.

“It is time to do some actual work on the ground and build a framework for climate justice,” said Dominguez, addressing other ministers.

At a ministerial dialogue on climate finance on November 5, Dominguez made a similar statement. He also aired the Philippine position that effective climate finance is built on an “orchestration” of three elements: grants to better prepare communities for climate change, investments in making businesses more climate risk ready, and subsidies to help renewable energy take off.

However, none in the delegation has mentioned any specific amount in climate finance that the Philippines is demanding. In a November 2 press release, the finance department said the Philippines incurred around $10 billion (P506.1 billion) losses and damages in a decade. This translates to 0.33% of the country’s annual average gross domestic product. But in 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) took out a whopping 4% of GDP.

There is a standing promise from richer nations to raise $100 billion every year for developing countries, an amount that many have said is insufficient given the worsening impacts of climate hazards and the COVID-19 pandemic. Climate-vulnerable countries like the Philippines are demanding at least double that amount.

2. Announced plan to retire coal-fired plants in Mindanao

On Wednesday, November 3, Dominguez joined the launch of the Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) facility of the Asian Development Bank. This public-private finance vehicle is supposed to help the country’s transition from fossil fuel-powered energy to renewable energy.

Efforts will start in Mindanao where Dominguez said coal-fired plants would gradually be retired as the ETM facility provides funding for the rehabilitation of the Agus-Pulangi hydropower plant. ADB has started a feasibility study for the project which will take two years. But Dominguez said the goal is have a closing on the pilot fund by end of 2022.

Overall, the facility is expected to speed up the retirement of the country’s coal plants “by at least 10 to 15 years,” said the finance chief.

3. Declined from promising to stop contruction of new coal-fired plants

The Philippines was one of 40 countries that endorsed a COP26 statement to move away from coal energy, called the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement. But, it was the only country to qualify its support.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who is in Manila, told the UK government, host of COP26, that the Philippines is endorsing only clause 1 and some parts of clauses 2 and 4. What’s wrong with clause 3? It says countries will “cease new construction of unabated coal-fired power generation projects” and “end new direct government support for unabated international coal-fired power generation.”

Cusi explained that the Philippines is prioritizing “energy security” due to its economic and development needs and that, anyway, the Philippines is not a major greenhouse gas emitter.

While the government announced in 2020 that it would stop approving new applications for coal plants, it is allowing approved plants to push through.

Coal accounts for 54% of the Philippines’ energy mix. There were 26 coal plants as of November 2020. 

4. Launched roadmap to finance climate-conscious, green investments

The delegation presented a Sustainable Finance Roadmap at COP26, a document that was launched last October 20 in Manila. In a nutshell, the roadmap lays out ways for the government to encourage investments in businesses, technologies, and infrastructure that reduce emissions or help make the economy more resilient to climate change imapcts. Read the roadmap here.

5. Joined pledge to halt deforestation by 2030

The Philippines was among 141 countries that endorsed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. These countries cover 91% of the world’s forests, making the declaration one of the major promises made at COP26. The Philippines has banned logging in natural and residual forests since 2011 but illegal logging continues in many parts of the country. 

6. Contributed to developing a network for mobilizing funds to address loss and damage from climate change

The Philippines helped in fleshing out the functions of the Santiago Network, a network created in 2019 to catalyze assistance from various sources and channel them to developing countries who need them. According to Vicente Yu, negotiator for a bloc that includes the Philippines, Philippine negotiator Felix William Fuentebella suggested the use of the word “demand-driven” in the document to make sure the assistance is based on what the developing country really needs, not what donor entities prefer to give. This wording made its way into the final document about the network.

7. Pushed for stronger wording on emissions avoidance in COP26 decision

On Friday, another Philippine negotiator, Albert Magalang, gave voice to the government’s demand that the concept of greenhouse gas emission avoidance appear in the COP26 outcome document. This means that more emphasis should be made on actions that steer away altogether from emitting planet-warming gases, rather than actions that still generate emissions but to a smaller degree. He also said developing countries need the developed world’s assistance in bringing in technologies that will help them avoid emitting greenhouse gases.

8. Supported a new financial facility for addressing loss and damage in vulnerable countries

The Philippines, as part of the Group of 77 and China bloc, wants the summit to create a new finance facility on loss and damage. This would be a funding mechanism that would house financing for countries that will suffer from devastations from climate risks like extreme weather events. There is no assurance that this will appear in the final COP26 document but experts and activists support such a move, saying that poorer countries’ concerns on loss and damage can only be adequately addressed through this facility.

– Rappler.com

This story was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.

Rappler is doing live updates and reporting on COP26 in Glasgow. Check this page for our coverage.

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.